Two of the most prominent men of the Civil Rights movement were Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. These two men, while both advocating for the right for African Americans to reach their true potential, could not have had more opposing opinions on how to do so. King took a more passive approach, while Malcolm X advocated for anything but. Despite their stark differences in ideology, both men were able to use their platforms to bring the issue of Civil Rights to the forefront of conversations across the nation. Their differences in upbringing, goals, and perceptions of success are still widely discussed today, and these men have been cemented in history as two of the most prominent Civil Rights advocates, with their effects and successes still being prevalent today.
Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X could not have had more different upbringings. King was born to a middle-class family and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. His grandfather and father were both pastors who practiced in a National Baptist Convention church, and King considered the church to be his second home. He grew up in an immersive African American community where everyone supported each other. He was fortunate to be able to attend three different higher education institutions: Morehouse College, the Crozer Seminary, and Boston University, where he eventually obtained his PhD. After finishing his education, he became a pastor at a church in Montgomery, eventually moving home to become a co-pastor with his father at their church in Atlanta. While in Montgomery, he became the president of the Montgomery Improvement Association during the bus boycotts, and he also founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Malcolm X had a different story. Born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska, Malcolm had a less than ideal upbringing. At the age of four, his house was burned down, and only two years later his father was murdered in what was made to look like an automobile accident. Before his father’s death, he served as a Baptist preacher. He was also an organizer for the Universal Negro Improvement Association, a black nationalist organization that stressed black pride and independence, separation from whites, and an internationalist Pan-African identity among blacks everywhere.
Soon after his father’s death, his mother suffered from a psychotic break and ended up being institutionalized, meaning that Malcolm had to enter foster care. All of his foster homes were white, and he attended a mostly white school until eighth grade, which marked the end of his education. In his early adulthood, he moved to Boston to live with his sister, where he entered a life of crime. He became a predatory hustler, pimp, drug pusher, gambling ring leader, and anything else that could possibly make him money. This all came to a head when he was arrested for burglary and was imprisoned from 1946-1952. The differences in King and Malcolm’s upbringings is prevalent in their ideology and suggestions for dealing with the Civil Rights movement. Malcolm’s advocacy or support for violence can be traced back to the violence he was subjected to at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan and the fact that his father was murdered.
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